Sunday, February 27, 2022

Putin's humiliation: The Ukraine war turns ugly for Russia

 The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This week, Vladimir Putin seems to be getting some first-hand experience in plans going awry.

After what the world thought would be a quick invasion and occupation of Ukraine began on Thursday, Russian advances quickly bogged down. In four days of fighting, the Russian army has still not been able to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv although they have reached the city’s suburbs.

Around the internet, there are videos of burned-out Russian armored columns and other Russian vehicles that have reportedly run out of gas, some abandoned and some with soldiers nearby being taunted by Ukrainian civilians. Ukraine has reportedly captured hundreds of Russian soldiers and has both set up a hotline for concerned parents to call the Ministry of Defense and allowed POWs to call home. Some captured Russians claimed that they were told that they were being sent on a training mission, not going to war.

Ukraine is winning the propaganda war online, but what about the actual war in the field? The situation is confused, but it is generally agreed that the Russians have been confined to occupying narrow slivers of territory near Ukraine’s borders. shows Russian-controlled territory as well as updates on reports from the various fronts.

We do know one thing for sure and that is that Kyiv remains in Ukrainian hands despite nightly shelling and airstrikes and Russian columns approaching from several directions. Ukrainian news reported on Saturday that there were heavy Russian losses at Hostomel airport to the north of the city where a Russian general commanding an elite unit was among the dead.

Senator Marco Rubio tweeted on Saturday night that US intelligence had learned the Russian objectives for the invasion. Four days into the war, none of the goals have been met.

For those interested in the root causes of Russia’s military difficulties, another Twitter thread by Stanimir Dobrev of International Review gives some background. The answer lies in poor planning, untested and untrained troops, bad strategy, and corruption among other things.

The news from the rear has not been any better for Russia. World opinion has swiftly turned against Vladimir Putin and his invaders. One of the first notable cracks in the small pro-Russia bloc was when China, Russia’s new strategic partner, issued a statement saying that Ukraine’s sovereignty should be respected.

“China firmly advocates respecting and safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. “This equally applies to the Ukraine issue.”

In another blow to the Russian homefront, the White House and the EU announced the expulsion of some Russian banks from the international SWIFT financial communications network. The decision comes as sanctions mount and Russia becomes more and more isolated. When world financial markets open on Monday, there is a good chance that the ruble and Russian stocks will collapse.

If Mr. Putin thought that the world would stand aside as his armies rolled over Ukraine, he was mistaken. Far from fracturing NATO, the alliance seems stronger than ever. NATO is deploying new ground and air forces to surrounding countries and member nations are shipping arms to Ukraine’s defenders. The Biden Administration approved $350 million in aid that will include Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. The Baltic states, NATO members and probably high on Putin’s target list themselves, are sending additional missiles as well. Even the Germans are getting into the act, reversing a long policy against sending weapons to conflict zones.

On top of all that, stopping the expansion of NATO was one of Putin’s primary war aims. His rash action may have been counterproductive on that point. Russia cautioned Finland and Sweden against joining the alliance, but the two nations brushed off the warning. Both countries already cooperate closely with NATO. Assuming that Ukraine survives as an independent nation with a government that is not run by Russian proxies, I think that there is a high probability that it will be admitted to the alliance after the war.

No matter how bad it looks online, Russia could still pull off a victory. In a conventional war, resources like men and material carry a lot of weight. Russia has a significant edge on both. Although Ukrainian morale and motivation are high, Russia’s advantage in numbers could carry the day. I’ve assumed from Day One that Kyiv would fall and US intelligence has warned that this could happen within days.

Stagnant fronts run the risk of leading the Russians to escalate. Thus far, the Russians seem to have tried to avoid civilian casualties and wanton destruction, but as they become desperate to make gains, that may change. This could take the shape of more indiscriminate airstrikes or the use of thermobaric rockets, weapons that were used in Chechnya and that are devastating in an urban setting.

The fall of Kyiv and even the occupation of the entire country wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the war. The fighting spirit of the Ukrainians would probably mean a long and difficult occupation for the Russians. A puppet regime would also have problems.

Until it declared independence in 1991, Ukraine has been dominated by Russia for hundreds of years with the exception of a few even darker years when it was dominated by Nazi Germany. It looks to me as though the people there are tired of being under the thumb of authoritarians. Ukrainians seem more than willing to die for their country… and to kill for it.


In nonwar news, Donald Trump spoke at CPAC on Saturday. In his speech, he finally came out against the invasion of Ukraine, calling it “an outrage” and an “assault on humanity.”

Trump also said that he plans to run for president again in 2024, saying, “We did it twice, and we'll do it again.” Trump lost his second presidential bid but has refused to acknowledge reality.

As expected, President Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Jackson is a Harvard graduate who was first nominated to the bench by Barack Obama. Biden nominated her to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 2021. She received three Republican votes (Collins, Graham, and Murkowski) in that confirmation process. Jackson is well-qualified and will almost certainly be confirmed.

Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) also made news when they attended the convention of the America First Political Action Committee, a white supremacist group.

In a clip tweeted by Liz Cheney, Nick Fuentes leads the crowd in cheers for Russia and Putin who they say “is Hitler and they say it’s not a good thing.”

This was not Gosar’s first flirtation with Fuentes, but Greene pled ignorance in another video posted to Twitter.

From the Racket

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Ukraine war in living color

 One of the things that Russia apparently has not thought about this week is using its prowess at cyber warfare to shut off the Ukrainian internet. Whether the omission was intentional or not, the videos and pictures streaming out from the combat zones provide a window into a modern conventional war that is hopefully something that will be rarely glimpsed. As someone observed on Thursday, “Now I know what it would have been like if social media had existed on September 1, 1939.”

The vivid images of the Russian onslaught that are emerging often look like something out of a war movie. Some would have to be seen to be believed. In sum, they provide an indelible record of Vladimir Putin’s crimes against Ukraine and humanity. Here then, are some of the most memorable of the videos tweeted from Ukraine on the first days of the war.

In this video, a Russian armored vehicle runs over a civilian Ukrainian automobile. Unbelievably, a subsequent shows that the driver of the car, a senior citizen, survived.

In the next tweet, video shows heavy fighting in the northeastern Ukraine city of Sumy as the town burns. The video is evidence of the fierce resistance being given by the Ukrainian defenders. Russian armor reportedly attacked the town in the early morning hours of Thursday, February 24. Although the Russians captured the city, there are reports that Ukrainian forces recaptured it early Friday morning.

In the next video, a fighter-bomber is dropping bombs when it is engaged by anti-aircraft fire, which spits a stream of tracers at the airplane. I’m not sure what type of aircraft this is, but the twin tail and straight wing greatly resemble the American A-10. The plane maneuvers and drops flares to distract surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) as the radar-guided ground fire tracks it. The aircraft apparently escapes unscathed.

Next, Russian Mi-8 helicopters transporting airborne troops are engaged by heat-seeking SAMs and small arms fire. The Mi-8, codenamed “Hip” by NATO, discharge flares and appear to continue unharmed. Note that the helicopters are flying below the level of the Ukrainian defense position on the mountain.

In another helicopter video, smoke billows as Mi-8s attack the Hostomel airport near Kyiv. The Hips are transports but can be armed with guns and rockets.

Not all of the helicopters got away unscathed. The next video shows a Russian Ka-52 “Alligator” attack helicopter. The Ka-52 is the Russian equivalent to the AH-64 Apache. This one is heavily damaged. There is no word on what happened to the crew.

In the next video, a Ukrainian woman confronts armed Russian soldiers on the streets of Henichesk, a port city in southern Ukraine. A translation of the woman’s words shows that the woman railed at the invaders, calling them “fascists” and telling them to put sunflower seeds in their pockets so that when they die, sunflowers, the Ukrainian national flower, will bloom where they are buried.

“You will lie down here with the seeds,” the woman angrily says. “You came to my land. Do you understand? You are occupiers. You are enemies.”

By now, the whole world knows the story of the defenders of Snake Island. In an act of courage that rivals the defenders of Bastogne and the Alamo, the 13 Ukrainians told a Russian warship to perform an anatomically impossible act when it demanded their surrender. They were all killed in the subsequent fighting. Below is the audio of the exchange.

One of the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island recorded this selfie video as the battle began.

In a chilling video, a woman recorded a Russian fighter-bomber as it made an attack run and launched an air-to-ground missile at a target near her house. The aircraft appears to be an Su-27 “Flanker.” A baby cries as the woman runs for cover.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was first introduced to most Americans as the man who begged The Former Guy for more Javelin missiles in The Perfect Transcript at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s first impeachment. We saw him again today taking up arms in Kyiv to fight the invaders and telling the world that this might be the last time we see him alive.

Believe it or not, this guy used to be a comedian. Today, he has become a leader in the mold of George Washington.

Footage of civilians seeking cover from airstrikes in the subways reminds me of WWII photos of Londoners taking cover from the Blitz.

Morale is not so great on the Russian side. There are reports of Russian soldiers surrendering, including an entire brigade, and telling their Ukrainian captors that they didn’t even know they were going to war.

A look at compelling videos of the day would not be complete without showing Russian anti-war protests. The day began with pictures of individuals with signs. These people were quickly arrested and removed. Several pictures showed protesters being led away by Russian police. But later in the day, thousands of people poured into the streets to register their opposition to Putin’s (something Donald Trump has yet to do by the way). Showing up to protest Putin in Russia takes no less courage than picking up a rifle in Ukraine.

The pictures and videos coming out of Ukraine are a testament to the courage of the Ukrainian people and their determination to remain free.

If the brave Ukrainians are to prevail, however, they will need help from the outside. A successful conclusion to the war will require the Western nations to pressure Putin from the outside both economically and militarily. It will also require peace-loving Russians to rise up and oppose this immoral war and their criminal leader.

But all that is the easy part. Most of all, it is going to require the Ukrainians to stay strong and stand alone.

To the Ukrainians, I say, “Залишайся живим. Ми вам допоможемо. Нехай Бог благословить і оберігає Україну.”

From the Racket

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Putin chooses war

 Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of breakaway Ukrainian provinces and announced his intention to send in Russian forces to “maintain peace.” The long-watched-for Russian invasion of Ukraine is underway and Vladimir Putin has chosen war, just as we always suspected that he would.

But that’s really misstating the issue. Putin did not start a war this week. The blatant Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine is really a continuation of the war that he started back in 2014. That year, Putin’s unmarked “little green men” occupied Crimea, which was then annexed by Russia, and Russian proxies launched an insurgency into Donbas, Donetsk, and Luhansk, the provinces that Putin is formally occupying this week.

While the fighting faded from the front pages, it didn’t stop. Fighting in Ukraine has continued to cost hundreds of lives each year since 2014. In total, the death toll for Ukraine has exceeded 13,000 people, about a quarter of them civilians. In a country of 44 million, that number represents a large loss of life.

Putin’s aggression is no respecter of parties either. Some have made much of the facts that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 when Carter was president, Chechnya under Clinton in 1994, Crimea under Obama in 2014, and is now invading parts of Ukraine under Biden. But this omits that both the Second Chechen War and the Russo-Georgia War occurred during the Bush Administration and that Russia intervened in Syria while Trump was president… and while the US had troops fighting ISIS in the same area.

The fact that the Russo-Ukrainian War has been simmering for almost a decade now makes it laughable historical revisionism that the Russian bear would not be on the move if Donald Trump had won a second term. In reality, Russia kept up the proxy war throughout Donald Trump’s entire tenure as well as launching numerous cyberattacks on Ukraine during that time that targeted both military weapons and civilian infrastructure. In 2018, Russian naval vessels attacked Ukrainian patrol boats and took 24 sailors prisoner, holding them for months. Suffice it to say that Trump wasn’t strong on Ukraine.

Add to that that the reports from former White House staffers that Trump was planning to leave NATO if he won (or stole) a second term, Trump’s continued obeisance to Putin, and the fact that the isolationist said as recently as January that Ukraine is “a European problem.” The sum total paints a picture of a president who would not stand up to Vladimir Putin. When US forces withdrew from Syria on Trump’s orders, the Russians moved into our old bases.

Trump apologists point out that the Trump Administration was first to approve the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, but the truth is more complex. Trump reportedly opposed the deal and the terms of the sale reportedly prohibited the weapons from being used against the pro-Russia separatists and required them to be based in Western Ukraine, far from the fighting where they were needed. It was only a few months ago, in November 2021, that Ukraine confirmed that Javelins were being used against the Russia-backed rebels. Trump’s hold on military aid to Ukraine for personal political reasons was what triggered his fist impeachment.

On top of all that, as I’ve pointed out in the recent pieces, today it is the Republicans whose voices are loudest in opposing the potential use of American force against the invaders and who are even justifying Putin’s actions. I’ve even heard that some on the right are cheering for Putin to win and Biden to fail, although I haven’t seen this myself. If there are such people out there, I would suggest that it is incredibly self-centered to wish a nation into Russian slavery so that your party can score political points.

We really should all be on the same side here. That should be the side of freedom against authoritarian aggression. This isn’t about our domestic politics and the next election, it’s about who will control vast swaths of Ukraine for the foreseeable future. It’s about a country that only recently escaped the Russian sphere of influence and is now being dragged back in against its will.

At this point, it’s difficult to say what the future holds, but I think the smart money is that Russia will gobble up a few eastern provinces and then stop for a while. I don’t expect the Ukrainians to let this territory go without a fight. After all, they’ve been fighting for eight years already.

Nobody wants a war between the US and Russia, not even Putin. Most of us also don’t want to see a Russian dictator take over a free country. Fortunately, there is a lot of middle ground between going to war and doing nothing.

We can expect to see more US aid to Ukraine in addition to 300 more Javelin missiles that were delivered in late January, presumably without the “do not shoot at Russians” clause in the sales contract. What we won’t see is a deployment of American soldiers to the front lines. In addition to military aid, crippling sanctions that target Russian financial institutions, imports, and exports would be the best course of action. Make it bloody for Putin to take parts of Ukraine and economically painful for Russia to keep its prizes.

While I disagree with a lot of things that the Biden Administration has done, in Ukraine they seem to be hitting the right tone. After a few early missteps, Biden has consistently and strongly opposed Putin’s moves and kept the NATO allies together in their response. So far that response has included a round of sanctions that target banks and wealthy individuals by the UK and the halt of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by Germany. The Biden Administration has called Putin’s move an “invasion” and said that the US response will be “swift and severe.

Stay tuned.


Over the weekend, I went back to Manhattan for the first time since before the pandemic started. It’s always fun to visit New York City (but I couldn’t live there.) I’ve made some trips to the region, but this was my first chance to cross over the Hudson into New York proper.

The Big Apple was as bright and shiny as ever but not nearly as crowded as it used to be. Even Times Square wasn’t wall-to-wall people. That could be partly due to the cold and windy weather.

One of the most crowded places that I’ve been in the past two years was a dim sum restaurant in lower Manhattan. If Times Square wasn’t crowded, this place was.

Masks were optional in most places, although I did get asked for my vaccination card in a couple of restaurants. I was happy to provide it as well as to wear a mask when requested. In fact, the mask helped to keep my face from freezing when we were walking around.

Two things that had changed since my last visit were the streetside stands that COVID testing that replaced some of the ubiquitous hot dog vendors and the presence of marijuana vendor trucks. In fact, I caught a mobile COVID test site parked next to a weed wagon in an image that seems to sum up new New York. I didn’t partake of either.

(David Thornton)

It’s always nice to visit New York for a few days. I’ll be ready to go again soon and I’m glad to see that the pandemic seems to be fading in what was its American Ground Zero.

From the Racket